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Five Steps for Effective Legal Support in Elder Abuse and Neglect

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Whether in a nursing home or at the hands of a caregiver or relative, the realization that your elderly loved one may be a victim of abuse or neglect is gut-wrenching.

Elder abuse statistics suggest 1 in 10 American seniors fall prey to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse every year. Studies of elder financial abuse put its impact at billions of dollars each year, ranging from 10-11 digits. Even more chilling is that due to widespread underreporting, both sets of numbers are probably on the low end of what’s actually happening.

Many elders cannot or will not report abuse, whether because of limited physical or mental capabilities or out of fear, shame, or guilt. If you suspect abuse, it’s better to get involved and know for sure than remain silent. More importantly, under the “mandatory reporter” rule in Tennessee, it’s the law.

If you think an elderly loved one or someone you know is being harmed, neglected, or taken advantage of, trust your gut, and take action. Reporters should also consider whether they have grounds to pursue damages against a perpetrator through a civil claim. With this in mind, we offer you our top five tips on taking legal action.

  1. Rule Out Immediate Danger

911 or another local emergency number should be your first point of contact if an elder is in imminent danger, or when abuse is in progress. If it would put the elder’s life or personal safety at risk to wait an hour or two, you should get the authorities involved right away.

  1. Extensively Document the Abuse or Neglect

Having as much concrete evidence as possible at your disposal makes the abuse harder to deny – and the job of law enforcement and the victim’s legal team a lot easier.

Think what, when, and where, and start gathering this information as soon as possible. Evidence could include photos or videos, financial records such as bank statements or insurance information if you suspect wrongdoing involving money, or medical records from doctor or hospital visits related to injuries believed to be caused by the abuse.

If your loved one is being abused while under care, documentation should also include any written complaints you have made to the facility’s management and/or to your state’s health department, which can typically be filed online or via phone. CMS has compiled a list of contact information for filing a complaint with the State Survey Agency here.

  1. Understand Your Options for Support

While there are several places to turn when an elder is being harmed or is at risk, each serves a different function and may not be able to cover all the bases.

Law enforcement agencies will generally be your first point of contact for suspected physical, sexual, or financial abuse. However, when cases are filed in the criminal justice system, the state – not the abuse victim – is the plaintiff.

Adult Protective Services (APS) probe abuse and neglect and can implement safeguards for vulnerable elderly people. But with a lack of federal funding and limited state money, their resources are frequently constrained.

Both law enforcement agencies and APS have their shortcomings, which is why you may find the most support with the help of an elder law attorney who can help you recover any damages from suspected abuse or neglect.

  1. Choose the Right Elder Law Attorney

Abused or neglected elders and their loved ones may find the greatest room to maneuver by pursuing a civil case alongside the criminal justice process, or sometimes in lieu of it. Their story will be at the center of a civil case, and an experienced elder law attorney can apply the evidence to build a legal strategy that maximizes their ability to claim damages.

Read more in our guide to choosing an elder abuse attorney.

  1. Think Preventatively with Estate and Care Planning

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Thinking ahead on estate and care planning can go a long way toward protecting an elder, as well as their assets. While you’re talking to an elder law attorney, it’s worth asking about the extent of their experience in these areas, and then drawing up a plan together with your loved one.

Having fought for the dignity of senior citizens for a collective 65 years, Jehl Law Group is here when things go wrong, or to answer questions that may be unique to your situation.